Okay let’s talk marriage. We could all use a little help… I mean, the chance of a first marriage ending in divorce over a forty-year period is 67%. Half of all divorces will occur in the first seven years, and some studies find the divorce rate for second marriages is as much as 10% higher than for first-marriages. (All stats in this post are from the book referenced below).
With stats like that, couldn’t we all use a little help?
Here’s the exciting part: What if I told you that there is a researcher who could observe you and your spouse interact for just 5 minutes, and from that observation, predict with 91% accuracy whether or not your marriage will succeed? Would you believe me? (Well you should, because it’s true.) More importantly, would you want to know the results? Why or why not? Do you believe that these results could be accurate? Based on these results, would you want to change anything in your current relationship? (Rhetorical questions, all, but good questions, all…right?)
John M. Gottman, Ph.D. is a super celebrity in the field of Couples Counseling. He is like the Brad AND the Angelina of superstardom when it comes to research about what does and doesn’t make a marriage successful. (READ MORE! click the "read more" link below).
Yes, it is true that this man has pinpointed what makes a marriage dissolve just by listening to spouses interact in a normal, non-stressful setting. This information has revolutionized the field of couples counseling. But what is the most exciting about this research is that it has also helped pinpoint what can help save and repair a marriage, or help make a good marriage even better.
His prediction is not a sentence or infallible statement of what will come to pass, obviously. If you were observed and the prediction of divorce was made, I would hope it would be, among other things, a wake-up call! There are ways to heal a marriage. It obviously can take a lot more than can ever be detailed on this blog, or even in Dr. Gottman’s many books, but I am going to give you a little start, a little food for thought.
First, a note about counseling: Dr. Gottman lives and works in Seattle. I lived there for about three years, and during my training, was able to attend a week-long conference of his. Among the things I learned was the fact that most couples show up to couples counseling 7-10 years TOO LATE. Think about it this way… lots of people go to counseling for different reasons and in different situations. Some come to counseling as a last-ditch effort, or on the brink of divorce, or expecting no change, or wanting out, or wanting a quick and easy miracle cure. Well my friends, if that miracle cure existed, Dr. Gottman would be even more famous than he is now. There is no miracle cure, but there are very valuable TOOLS to help improve your marriage. It is best to go to the doctor BEFORE you are on death’s door, wouldn’t you agree? At that point there is often not much a doctor can do! Go to the doctor when something is ailing you… and in this case, go to the doctor when your marriage begins ailing.
Another note about counseling: I want to emphasize that counseling can be extremely helpful to couples and this blog advice is just that, advice. It is in no way nor should it ever be any sort of a substitute for professional help. Clearly there are circumstances where divorce is the better choice or best choice given individual situations. No individual circumstances can be taken into consideration here.
Now, some tidbits: Over the next few months, I’ll be posting morsels about how to improve your marriage based on Dr. Gottman’s research and work. They are killer bits of info, believe me. You won’t want to miss them!
Divorce Predictor 1: What Dr. Gottman calls The Harsh Startup
Dr. Gottman says that you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first 3 minutes of the interaction. If you begin a discussion with sarcasm, accusatory statements, and negativity, it is probably no surprise that the discussion will likely not resolve much of anything. Even if your tone of voice is quiet and calm, and even if during the conversation you attempt to be nice, Dr. Gottman’s research has shown that starting a discussion with these elements doom it to failure. So Dr. Gottman recommends stopping the discussion, take a time out, and starting over when you are ready to talk respectfully to one another.
So there is tidbit 1: Start hard conversations when you are ready to do so in a respectful and caring manner. Easier said than done, of course, but something we can all work on starting this minute. We are all capable to speaking to our spouses respectfully, and we are all capable of making mistakes (and that's okay). We just can start trying to start conversations more gently.
Dr. Gottman's repair for the harsh startup is getting to know your partner again. Remember when you were dating, and you were engrossed in learning every little aspiration, dream, story, and experience of your partner's life? Sadly, over time, as we settle into routine and get busier and busier with our lives, work, kids, etc., we forget to connect with our spouses on that intimate level that used to be so elementary. Dr. Gottman has great advice in his book on how to do this... because when we know more about someone, we tend to be more loving and understanding toward them. Re-get to know your partner. Go on a date and ask each other questions about their dreams, aspirations, memories. It just might make it easier for you to start a difficult conversation with a bit more respect, a bit more gentleness, love, and understanding.
Final note: Feel free to jump the gun and go out and borrow or buy some of Dr. Gottman’s books. My favorite that I recommend to just about everyone is “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” by John M. Gottman , Ph.D., and Nan Silver. I have based this post and will be basing future Marriage posts on Dr. Gottman’s work on this book in particular. I believe this book should be on a regular rotation in every person’s home. I mean a regular READING rotation. We forget so much of what we read, and having this book on repeat every year or so would be a good idea to keep a lot of these marriage enhancing tidbits available to your brain the next time you and your hubby go at it (in the not nice way, not the nice way).